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Root and Phizosphere Bacterial Phosphatase Activity Varies with Tree Species and Soil Phosphorus Availability in Puerto Rico Tropical Forest

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Frontiers in Plant Science
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Climatic conditions in tropical forests combined with the immobility of phosphorus due to sorption on mineral surfaces or result in soils typically lacking in the form of phosphorus (orthophosphate) most easily metabolized by plants and microbes. In these soils, mineralization of organic phosphorus can be the major source for labile inorganic P available for uptake. Both plants and microbes encode for phosphatase enzymes capable of mineralizing a range of organic phosphorus compounds. However, the activity of these enzymes depends on several edaphic factors including P availability and tree or microbial species. Thus, phosphatase activity in both roots and the root microbial community constitute an important role in P mineralization and P nutrient dynamics that are not well studied in tropical forests. We measured phosphatase activity in roots and bacterial isolates from the microbial community of six tree species from three forest sites differing in phosphorus availability in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico. Root and microbial phosphatase activity were both influenced by tree identity and soil phosphorus availability. However, tree identity had a larger effect on phosphatase activity (effect size = 0.12) than soil phosphorus availability (effect size = 0.07). In addition, lower amounts of P availability corresponded with higher levels of enzyme activity. In contrast, ANOSIM analysis of the weighted UniFrac distance matrix indicates that microbial community composition was more strongly controlled by soil P availability (P value < 0.05). These results indicate that root and rhizosphere microbial phosphatase activity are similarly expressed despite the slightly stronger influence of tree identity on root function and the stronger influence of P availability on microbial community composition. The low levels of orthophosphate in tropical forests, rather than prohibiting growth, have encouraged a variety of functions to adapt to minimal levels of an essential nutrient. Phosphatase activity is one such mechanism that varies in both roots and microbial community members. A thorough understanding of phosphatase activity provides insight into P mineralization in tropical forests, providing not only perspective on ecosystem function of tropical trees and microbial communities, but also in advancing efforts to improve representations of tropical forests in future climates.